Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Single Payer Rally in Nashville

Representatives of: Nashville Chapter of Healthcare Now!,Tennessee Physicians for a National Healthcare Program, National Nurses Organizing Committee, Tennessee National Organization for Women, National Chapter of NOW, Nashville Peace & Justice Center and the Nashville Chapter of Veterans for Peace will deliver a birthday cake to the office of Rep. Jim Cooper to celebrate the 44th birthday of Medicare Thursday, July 30. They will also deliver recommendations on health care reform to Rep. Cooper through his office and will request a meeting with Rep. Cooper during
the U.S. House of Representative's August break. They know that Rep. Cooper, a “Blue Dog” Democrat, is concerned about the cost of health care reform.

They hope that Rep. Cooper will recognize that the real way to make
meaningful health care reform financially viable is to redirect the
funds currently being used for the excessive profits, compensations,
overheads and duplicatory paperwork of the for-profit health insurance
industry and use them instead to provide decent health care for
everyone in America.

This event is part of a nationwide Rally and Lobby Day, ca
lled by the
Leadership Conference for Guaranteed Health Care, to celebrate
Medicare's 44th birthday. Members of this coalition believe that the
best way to save Medicare is to expand it to everyone in America and to
make it a truly single-payer system by removing the for-profit
interests and guaranteeing health care as a right for all.

The public is invited to share in the birthday cake and celebration and
to express their support for a Single Payer Health Care system in the
park across from Rep. Jim Cooper's office and the downtown public

Jane Hussain, who is celebrating the 44th birthday of Medicare, hopes
that Medicare will still be there for her when she turns 65. Having
lost her job due to health problems, she says she may have to “hold her
breath for several years” between the time her COBRA insurance coverage
runs out and the time she becomes eligible for Medicare. “Medicare was
originally designed to cover everyone in America, but special interests
have prevented that from happening for all these years. Now the
American people are demanding real, serious health care reform. I hope
we get it”.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Breaking the Siege of Gaza

Award-winning filmmaker and ANSWER Coalition representative Travis Wilkerson reports on the Viva Palestina delegation’s journey to challenge the Israeli blockade of Gaza and deliver humanitarian supplies.

The long road to Gaza

The Egyptian government has closely collaborated with Israel’s suffocating and criminal blockade for more than two years, and set up a broad range of administrative obstacles that delayed our group’s entry into Gaza.

Our delegation was required to obtain “Gaza affidavits” notarized by U.S. Embassy officials before we were allowed to pass. The affidavits are essentially indemnity agreements asserting that the individual has signed away their legal rights to the protection of the U.S. government. Each member was required to have an affidavit, at a cost of $30 each. The U.S. embassy received nearly $6,000 in total in exchange for a legal pledge to essentially do nothing to assist our convoy.

If these burdensome requirements were not sufficient, convoy leaders were told that none of the 47 vehicles purchased at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars would be allowed to enter Gaza. The people of Gaza have indicated that new vehicles are desperately needed for hospitals, clinics, childcare centers and other public services. We were told we would be allowed to stay in Gaza for no more than 24 hours. Anyone overstaying that time period would not be permitted to leave until the next general opening of the Rafah crossing; the last such opening happened in June 2007.

New York City Councilmember Charles Barron, who traveled with the convoy, believes the reason behind these new requirements and restrictions is clear. “They don’t want this to be successful because they don’t want any more convoys,” Barron said. “They want to set an example with us. They were hoping that they would discourage [us]. That’s why the delays, that’s why adding on stipulations, because they want us to implode.”

One of the most dramatic moments of the convoy occurred in a private meeting of the Viva Palestina delegation after midnight on July 13. An agent of the Egyptian government was found to be present taking notes. After a tense confrontation, his notes were confiscated and MP Galloway and several members of the convoy escorted him out of the room.

After a lengthy and spirited debate, the group overwhelmingly voted in favor of traveling on to Gaza, despite the outrageous limits imposed by the Egyptian authorities, with whatever assistance we would be allowed to deliver. This amounted to around $150,000 worth of medical aid, including urgently needed medicines, wheelchairs and walkers.

The authorities continued their delaying tactics for another 24 hours, refusing even to answer our repeated phone calls for final negotiations. The Egyptian official in charge of the discussions was said to be “in a meeting” all day.

Finally, at around 1 a.m. on Wednesday, July 15, the Egyptian government gave us permission to enter Gaza with the severely reduced quantity of aid. We assembled at 3 a.m., anxious to press forward. But the reserved busses didn’t arrive—likely yet another obstacle placed in our way by the authorities. Some nine hours later, after numerous calls to multiple bus companies, we secured transportation and finally began the long drive to Rafah.

Breaking the siege

Because we were placed under such onerous restrictions by the Egyptian authorities, I knew I’d need to make the very most of my brief visit. I was fortunate enough to be hosted by the extraordinary Dr. Mona El Farra, a physician and human rights activist who lives in Gaza City. We set off with first light.
As we began our tour, Dr. Mona, as she is affectionately known, stressed some important points. Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on earth. In the 1940s, prior to the establishment of Israel, a U.N. census argued that Gaza was too densely populated to sustain itself and function. At that time, it had 300,000 inhabitants; now, it has grown to 1.5 million, or five times as many. Two thirds of the population are refugees.

For all intents and purposes, Gaza is the world’s largest refugee camp. And in the midst of it lives the Palestinian resistance.

The massacre in December and January was absolutely catastrophic. In fact, as military strategy, the massacre wasn’t even aimed at so-called “militants,” but rather the basic infrastructure of Gaza civil society. First and foremost, they targeted schools, hospitals, ambulances, police stations, power plants, water treatments facilities—the list goes on.

Israel wants to make life unlivable for the Palestinians in Gaza. That has been the goal behind the criminal and ongoing siege of Gaza, aided and abetted by the United States and Egypt. Civilians cowering in the buildings weren’t always deliberately targeted so much as simply ignored.

We visited the outskirts of the main Gaza power plant. The plant had first been attacked three years ago, ostensibly in retaliation for the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Meanwhile, Israel continues to hold thousands of Palestinian prisoners. As a result of the original strike and subsequent attacks, for years the whole of Gaza has had inadequate electricity for basic infrastructure. The spinning of Shalit’s capture into a pretext for these war crimes is but one example of the racist propaganda message that Israeli lives are infinitely more valuable than Palestinian ones.

Spirit of resistance can’t be broken

Before moving on to the worst of the destruction, Dr. Mona took us to several schools with which she works closely. The schools are in beautiful shape and are models of a progressive response to the horrors. Here, children as young as four are encouraged to paint, sing, dance and use other creative forms to express the nightmares they’ve all witnessed, and through this regain confidence and strength.
There’s an overwhelming sense in Gaza that though the people have been through an unimaginable catastrophe, they simply aren’t defeated—not even close. And nowhere is that feeling more powerful than when looking into the sparkling eyes of Palestinian children.

Nothing can quite prepare you for the destruction of the American school. The Israelis didn’t simply hit it; they completely destroyed it. Every wall, every corner was pounded it into rubble, dust and glass. They even set the school buses aflame—hence the urgent Palestinian request for such vehicles.

What possible military justification is there for an attack such as this? As I wandered the grounds of the destroyed campus, a group of children stood and watched me through a fence that reminded me of a cage. What must it do to children who have seen things such as this?

The whole of that part of the refugee camp shows frightening evidence of the violence. Every remaining house—and the Israeli forces destroyed many thousands of them—is riddled with bullet holes and other damage. As tanks rolled into the city, they destroyed everything in their wake, including any crops they encountered.

Dr. Mona then took us to a small cultural facility in the midst of the camp. She described its importance: “It’s essential that we have a sense of our history, our culture, our strongest traditions. We have to maintain a strong, proud identity to continue this long struggle.”

In the main gallery was an absolutely extraordinary series of paintings illustrating the history of the Nakba, or the Catastrophe, the name given by Palestinians to the creation of Israel and the war that followed to expel Palestinians from their homeland. The paintings were harrowing, filled with images of atrocity upon atrocity. They represented a graphic and powerful collective history, and very much underscored Dr. Mona’s words about the importance of the center.

Finally, we stopped at a small encampment of refugees next to the ruins of their former home. Half a dozen children, from toddlers to pre-teens, were playing in the rubble. Several of their family and friends had been butchered by advancing Israeli forces and the children had witnessed it all. As I took out my camera, the children all started mugging. One boy took a special interest in my equipment and I let him film his siblings as well as all of us. He was a natural photographer and I suddenly found myself wondering how much beauty would never be allowed to be created by children forced to grow up in conditions such as these.

As dusk fell on Gaza City, we made our way back to the Rafah crossing and finally back to Cairo.

The U.S., Israeli and Egyptian governments had frustrated much of our efforts start to finish. But we’d broken the siege nonetheless, brought urgently needed aid to our Palestinian brothers and sisters, seen the remarkable Gaza with our own eyes, and met face to face the inspiring Palestinian people. Through our words, many more will learn the truth about the U.S.-Israeli campaign against Gaza and the Palestinian people. The struggle continues.

Free, free Palestine!

Long live Palestine!

End the siege of Gaza now!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Two Ways to Pay As You Go

Two Ways to Pay As You Go
By David Swanson

The day after ramming through nearly $100 billion more for wars and $100 billion in loans to European banks through the IMF, the majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, Steny Hoyer, introduced a "PayGo" bill, requiring that any spending be paid for with cuts in other spending. But having this law on the books would not have stopped the previous day's legislation. War "supplemental" bills are deemed "emergencies" and an exception is made for them. And lending money you don't have and can't be sure of getting back, through an unaccountable organization with a record of damaging those it claims to help, is not considered spending at all.

Robert Borosage argues for opposing PayGo on the grounds that deficit spending may be needed in the short term. He also argues that the only place where spending is out of control is healthcare and that this broad legislation would take the focus off healthcare and block necessary spending elsewhere. He also claims that PayGo is a project of the rightwing Blue Dog Democrats that progressives oppose. And Borosage rightly calls out Blue Dogs on their hypocrisy in always voting for wars while chattering about fiscal discipline. So, that's one approach: oppose PayGo and try to stop it.

But let’s get our facts straight. Hoyer's bill has 163 cosponsors, most of them not Blue Dogs, a lot of them progressives, or at least what passes for progressives in Congress. PayGo also has the support of President Barack Obama. Healthcare is decidedly not the only place where spending is out of control. I agree with Borosage's emphasis on healthcare, but not with his fierce opposition to single-payer, which is the only thing that can fix it. If we avoid single-payer, and therefore the compromises that advocating it could facilitate, we are likely to end up with a healthcare "solution" that does involve a lot of wasteful spending -- in which case you wouldn't want PayGo to be on the books, unless you saw opposition to wasteful spending as a legitimate concern in itself. And I do. But the biggest chunk of wasteful spending every year is not on healthcare or any other human good. And it's not on war supplementals. It's on the standard military budget. We don't need deficit spending. We need to move at least a fraction of the wasteful money in the bloated pigged-out Pentagon to programs that serve useful purposes. This is a progressive and a majority position.

But the exceptions for wars and loans are serious exceptions. They could both be addressed through amendments to the PayGo legislation. I want to focus on the war supplementals, because I think they offer an opening for engagement that would leave Borosage and all progressives and a much larger section of the political spectrum happy. My idea is this: we launch a campaign to amend the PayGo legislation to stipulate that no funding for any war that has been ongoing for over five years counts as an "emergency" or is excluded from PayGo requirements. This would mean that the next war supplemental bill could not be passed without some explanation of where the money was going to come from. (Congressman John Murtha has promised another supplemental this year, having waited to do so until just after the passage of the last one, which was sold as being the final such bill.) Such a campaign could simply target Hoyer to amend his bill to agree that wars that have been dragging on for over five years are not emergencies. Or it could work with Congressional supporters to gather support for an amendment to that effect or a sign-on letter committing members to reject PayGo unless that change is made.

What would such a campaign produce? For certain it would call out all the hypocrites in a very visible way. All of those Republicans and Blue Dogs and everybody else who votes for war money, and does so extra-irresponsibly off-the-books, would have to put up or shut up about fiscal responsibility. Every time they opened their mouths about fiscal responsibility they could be asked whether they thought wars over five years were emergencies. Every time they said we should pay as we go they could be asked if we should pay as we kill as well. Such a campaign would generate opposition to PayGo and allow Congress Members to oppose it as hypocritical and pro-war waste. And such members need not commit to supporting PayGo if it is amended to include war supplementals. They could still choose to oppose it.

But what if the amendment were made? What if members had committed to supporting PayGo? It would then be a PayGo that, in the minds of everyone, was about the military as well as human needs. We would then have put on the table the question of Pentagon waste, while requiring fiscal discipline -- which, yes, is a good thing. This is the question progressives should consider: do we want money for human needs to be borrowed from our grandchildren or taken away from the war machine? That shouldn't be a difficult choice.


David Swanson is the author of the upcoming book "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union" by Seven Stories Press. You can pre-order it and find out when tour will be in your town: http://davidswanson.org/book. Arrange to review it on your blog and Seven Stories will get you a free copy. Contact crystal at sevenstories dot com.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Non-Discrimination in Metro Nashville

Federal Hate Crimes and Non-Discrimination in Metro Nashville

The Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition (TTPC) has been informed that a vote on S.909, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, could take place as early as Wednesday. The House of Representatives has already passed this legislation by a vote of 249 to 175, and the President has pledged to sign it.

Please contact both of Tennessee's Senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker before Wednesday and tell them you want to them to support S.909. With the recent rash of hate crimes across the nation, and with new statistics from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs showing a sharp increase in hate crimes against LGBT people across the nation, and similar statistics from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation showing a sharp increase in hate crimes as well in Tennessee, there must be federal legislation to protect all LGBT people when local authorities refuse to act.

The bill has been endorsed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Interfaith Alliance, National Disability Rights Coalition, which includes the Disability Law and Advocacy Center of Tennessee, American Psychological Association, and virtually every major law enforcement organization in the country, including the Major Cities Chiefs Association, which includes the City of Memphis and Metro Nashville, International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National District Attorneys Association, the National Sheriffs Association, the Police Executive Research Forum, and thirty-one state Attorneys General.

Metro Nashville Non-Discrimination Policy

The Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition (TTPC) joins the Tennessee Equality Project in announcing the upcoming introduction of a fully inclusive, non-discrimination policy, for employees of the Government of Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County (see attached). This will protect all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees from workplace discrimination in Metro Government. This ordinance, will be filed on Tuesday, by Councilmember At Large Megan Barry.

Councilwoman Barry was the Keynote Speaker at the 2008 TTPC Dinner in Nashville. We greatly appreciate her support in proposing this fully inclusive ordinance.

The First Reading before the Metro Council is scheduled for Tuesday, July 21. If you are a resident of Davidson County, please contact all five At Large Councilmembers, as well as your District councilmember, As Soon As Possible and ask them to support the ordinance.

You can find the contact information of Council members by clicking here. You can also use this special Feedback page to send an-email.

If you do not know the name of your District Councilmember, then click here to Find Where You Vote and the District in which you live.

Last month, the Shelby County Commission banned discrimination against LGBT employees and we look forward to Metro Nashville doing the same. It is time to end job discrimination in Metro Government based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. If LGBT people can find, and hold, decent paying jobs, then we are less likely to end up on the streets where we become vulnerable to hate crimes.

And please make plans to join us at the Metro Courthouse on Tuesday, July 21, for the First Reading, and every other Tuesday until discrimination against LGBT people is finally banned in Metro Government.

Marisa Richmond

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

McNamara’s Ghost in Afghanistan

McNamara’s Ghost in Afghanistan
By tom hayden

Robert McNamara died the other day as seven American soldiers were killed in Afghanistan.

It wasn’t the deaths on the same day that made me remember McNamara’s folly.

It was the sense that McNamara’s ghost is hovering over the new graveyard of America’s future.

McNamara’s team of Ivy Leaguers was dubbed “the best and the brightest” by the disillusioned war correspondent David Halberstam. They were deluded by their arrogance into believing computer-driven measures of success, like body counts. Though liberal and secular in temperment, they held a faith-based belief in victory. Fifty-eight thousand Americans died, along with countless Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians, because of these best and brightest. Not one of them went to jail. McNamara went to the World Bank.

Today another Ivy League president has placed his faith in Ivy League generals and an inbred crowd of three hundred national security advisers drawn from the same elite circles. They are the new best-and-brightest, and I believe history will show they are marching to folly in their “Long War.”

General Petraeus is an Ivy Leaguer. So is his surrogate spokesman in Washington, John Nagl at the think tank of the best-and-brightest, the Center for a New American Security. So is Gen. Stanley McChystal, the Special Operations spook presiding over Afghanistan and Pakistan. So are Petraeus’ Harvard collaborators on the new Marine and Army counterinsurgency manual. So is their top counterinsurgency guru, David Kilkullen, who writes of reviving the Vietnam Phoenix program of detention and targeted killings, not only in Afghanistan, but globally. [For dummies, Phoenix involved the detention, torture and killing of 25,000 alleged Vietcong civilians, and the rounding up millions of peasants into “strategic hamlets” to protect them from any Vietcong still in the jungle. The debacle was terminated in 1971, but Kilcullen, who wasn’t born then, keeps hope alive, saying the program was misunderstood. McNamara would have loved Kilcullen, a Ph.D who openly believes in “armed social science.”

I first heard of Robert McNamara as an undergraduate editor at the University of Michigan, when a dean of humanities told me that McNamara, a UM graduate and president of Ford Motors, was an exceptionally bright man with whom dialogue about war and peace was finally possible.

I was skeptical, however, of McNamara’s application of scientific management techniques to corporate, government and military policy. I couldn’t understand the mystique of intelligence, detached as it was from an understanding of a world in unpredictable transition.

From the perspective of McNamara’s funeral, we can take a reckoning. The Vietnam War was the greatest American folly of the twentieth-century. Applied to large universities, the same scientific management approaches provoked the Free Speech Movement. And of course, Ford is in ruins.

The brightest were clueless and, in Leonard Cohen’s verse,

When the very good have stopped their quest
The very worst are called the best.

For what earthly purpose did those seven Americans die in southern Afghanistan? Are there al Qaeda there? Not by anyone’s account. If they were fighting the Taliban as distinct from local people, the reasons are elusive. Apparently the Taliban of southern Afghanistan are part of a host organization that will welcome the return of al Qaeda whom, we are warned, will use their new caves to plot strikes against our homeland.

You can have the IQ of a plant to smell this stupidity.

The Pentagon predicts an 18-month war for southern Afghanistan before they can clear, build, hold and hand over the rubble to an Afghan army inferior to the Taliban.

The logical move now for the Taliban would be to draw the young Americans into a bloody quagmire in Kandahar and Helmand, then turn up elsewhere using hit-and-run attacks as they did this week against the gates of NATO or isolated American bases elsewhere.

In an example of further idiocy masked as intelligence, a Pentagon spokesman yesterday said the seven deaths were “what we expected.” [LAT, July 7] The Taliban and “other insurgents” had engaged in “less direct combat than was expected by the military”, Nagl of the CNAS told the press. [LAT, July 7]. They Taliban and these “other insurgents” used roadside bombs instead of throwing themselves in front of the American guns. This was a surprise. That’s what happens when you go into “Indian country”, said a Pentagon official.

In more dangerous Pakistan, meanwhile, the best-and-brightest are high-fiving themselves after pressuring the wary Pakistan army into invading the Swat Valley and preparing to assault South Waziristan. This operation has created more casualties than any time since Pakistan was founded and, according to the NY Times, American aid workers are being barred from refugee camps where pro-Taliban forces distribute food and medicine paid for by American taxpayers. In a recent incident obscured by the fog of war, the Taliban last week apparently attacked a site connected with Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

In Iraq meanwhile, the Pentagon and mainstream media are upset by the very Shi’a coalition put in power by the American military bragging about the US withdrawal and holding a national day of celebration. Only the brightest are blind to the American effort to disguise failure in Iraq with a decent interval, as orchestrated by Henry Kissinger in Vietnam.

None of this makes any Americans safer. If anything, more civilians will grow to hate us in both countries, some of those civilians will join the Taliban or al Qaeda, the Europeans will soon be abandoning the NATO military mission, Russia will be enjoying payback for what the Americans did to them in Afghanistan, and President Obama will be trapped like Gulliver in a Long War he cannot afford, can never win and dare not lose.

The best and brightest, by their own definition, are incapable of being wrong. McNamara couldn’t admit his mistake for decades and still remained at loss for words in the painful final moments of the film Fog of War.

The new best-and-brightest are like McNamara in this respect too: their arrogance makes a mistake inconceivable.

It took an anti-war movement to provoke Daniel Ellsberg, one of the original best-and-brightest, to finally break ranks and tell the truth. Another movement and another Ellsberg are needed now, before the mistake becomes a permanent one. “

TOM HAYDEN is the author of Ending the War in Iraq [2008], the Tom Hayden Reader[2008] and this year’s The Long Sixties.